(Full Disclosure – I received a presser and free copy of the album in exchange for an honest review.)
Defining “steampunk” is hard enough when investigating the aesthetic in the visual sense. Trying to explain that it’s more than goggles, what happens when Goths discover brown, and yesterday’s tomorrow today, isn’t easy.
And then try to define “steampunk” as an aural aesthetic and… well… It used to be difficult. But now when people ask me to define it, I will simply point to the Victor Sierra oeuvre.
Eclectic, multicultural and multilinguistic, electronic, industrial, found-instrument sounding, patched and welded together of wonderful and weird musical styles and traditions, into a distinctive, and wondrous sound. You don’t need to see the “steampunk” in Victor Sierra’s music – it paints the perfect example of it in your mind.
Victor Sierra’s new album “Strange Country”, simply put, maker-culture at its finest.
The first track on the album, “Unquiet Days”, starts with an appropriately weird west riff that makes it clear that the glorious zeppelin The Hydrogen Queen has gone past het borders of military skirmishes and the punky desperation to run wild and free, and has managed to make it into the open skies.
There is a breath of fresh air here, the sounds less dense and the melodies more comfortable in their own skins. It feels like Big Machine, Anouk and Commander Bob have finally come into their own. They’re not afraid to play with dissonance, atonal meshes, and to tell more stories. I like, too, that the vocals are more prominent on this album. You don’t have to strain to catch the words. Though I do miss the vocal acrobatics that Anouk flourished throughout the previous two albums a little; her tonality is a bit less elastic and fey. We get that back a little in “El Calor”, which pleases me a lot.
The industrial, dieselpunk influence is more obvious in this album as well. The sound is a bit more clubby – the tracks are driven more by the duende of their bass and rhythm sections, giving the impression that with the military left behind, Victor Sierra has invited their listeners to a music festival in the middle of a no-man’s land, and is inviting them to shed their goggles and jetpacks and come sweat in the rust-coloured sand.
I love that “The Fall of the Airship Solaria” it sounds like the kind around-the-campfire tale that grease-monkeys shovelling coal in the Hydrogen Queen’ belly might sing to one another at night, complete with percussion and rhythm banged out on metal tubing and cogs with wrenches.
I was struck by how much track three, “Angels Roll Out the Night” reminded me of their first album Electric Rain, but with a bit of an 80s electropop twist. It was fun and I couldn’t help bobbing along in my seat, despite how warning the lyrics are. It was like coming home to the Victor Sierra I first fell in love with, which I appreciated.
I could detail each track, and what I liked about each of them, but I also don’t want to spoil the joy of discovery for listeners who are going to be plunging into the swirling depths of this album. I do want to point out “Long Life to the Hydrogen Queen”, however.
Like Abney Park’s Airship Isabella, Victor Sierra is based on the fictional Hydrogen Queen, a sort of home-sweet-home for their sound and souls. And this song is a lyrical, sweet (as sweet as the industrial-punk sound of Victor Sierra ever gets) ode to what it means to be a steampunk. The lyrics are important with this band, too – definitely pay attention – but nowhere as much as in this track. The steampunk call to arms of “leave behind boring, consumer-driven life and join the anarchists and rebels who dare to live for the moment, for the self, for the freedom of creativity and self-expression!” is absolutely there. It makes your heart beat a little harder against your breastbone.
“We are here, we are here, we are here and we love where we are,” this song says. “Come join us.”
If I could have one wish, it would be that Parisian based Victor Sierra sang a bit more in French! Their albums are predominantly English, which makes sense when the shared language between global Steampunks is overwhelmingly English, but they also sing in Yiddish and Spanish.
As someone who quite likes the beauty and romanticism of French, I really appreciated that “Atlantis” was in language, and I hope they produce a track or two in their native language on the next album. (There’s something more at ease and relaxed about Anouk’s voice when she sings in French. Something richer.)
Cause there definitely has to be another album. Victor Sierra is really taking off now, and I look forward to seeing where the Hydrogen Queen brings us next.